BBC, BBC Radio 4, Christopher Douglas, Comedy, Cynicism, Ed Reardon, Ed Reardon's week, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Failure, Josh Darcy, Nicola Sanderson, Pleasance Courtyard, Theatre Review
Ed Reardon (Christopher Douglas) is a grandly established old carthorse from the Radio 4 comedy stables, his show trotting through seven series within six years, and he has been now put out to pasture in the Pleasance to tell the story of his life. It turns out, however, that there is not much of a story, and even less of a life. Readon is a stuffy old North London twit, who issues an endless and not notably original flow of grumpy criticisms about modern life and literature. The BBC is run by twelve year olds, whilst our best bookshops are now Asda and Lidl. He lives in a world of sad Pooterish domesticity, his snobbish literary aspirations forever mocked by all of the hack work that they make him do, writing episodes of Dangermouse and coffee table tomes about celebrity pets.
Ed is assisted by two stage hands (Nicola Sanderson and Josh Darcy), whose enthusiastic acting inevitably grates with the star, and his running complaints about their work keep the laughs rolling along. The show’s funniest joke is expended at the very beginning, when the offstage Ed is fitted with a microphone and he then gets lost on his way to the stage, leaving his audience to listen to him crashing around outside in the Pleasance Courtyard.
The show slips down very well, but it leaves a nasty aftertaste – namely that of its ultimately pointless cynicism. At bottom, beyond his sharply snapping intellect, Ed is simply a failure, an irretrievable, irredeemable failure, who will never create anything artistically rewarding and who will never be accepted in either the realms of high art nor in his more coveted sphere of media success. This is not a happy joke upon which to build a performance – indeed, if it was just a little more realistic, then the show would be deeply unpleasant.
Not so much a worthy old horse as a one trick pony, Ed does not get very far as a character because he can only ever be cynical in the same grating note. We know that even if he lived in a Californian palace, he would still find something to carp about. The enormity of his energy and intelligence has been misdirected into bitter little throwaway comments about modern life, rather than into that great novel or screenplay that he has so obviously the ability to write. It is somewhat perverse, therefore, that Ed has to be a great success for his show to work, with theatregoers queuing around the block and one of the largest audiences that I have so far seen at the Fringe. If he was really a failure, playing to a house of six in the Pleasance Zoo, then his shtick would not be acting, because Christopher Douglas would be the same as his alter ego.
A little incredibly, this audience emitted great gales of knowing laughter at Ed’s snide and rather aimless allusions to Martin Amis or A S Byatt, casting him as the aspirant joker to some fashionable, faraway literary court. Ed never mentions the internet, which is curious because his character essentially encapsulates a contemporary anxiety that the media is becoming too big and unmanageable and mediocre, with the pauperised writer being lost on an ocean of unread blogs and self-published novels. Alas, this show’s failure is that a miserable blogger such as myself is now grumbling inconsequentially about banal, sellout radio comedians. Twelve year olds the lorra them.